- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London., Reid StandishReid Standish is associate editor, digital, at Foreign Policy. Reid writes on Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia and is the newsroom’s digital point person. He has lived in and reported from Finland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he covered everything from Santa Claus to drug trafficking. A native of British Columbia, he holds a B.A. in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an M.A. from the University of Glasgow., Siobhán O'GradySiobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy.
This post was updated as further information about the attacks became available.
The death toll in what is shaping up to be the deadliest terrorist attack in French history spiked late Friday after police stormed the Bataclan concert hall in Paris where at least two gunmen had been holding scores of hostages and found that at least 100 of them had been killed by the attackers. The grim tally caused French authorities to raise the estimated death toll to 127, with another 200 wounded.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The public prosecutor for Paris, François Molins, told reporters the terrorists hit six sites: Stade de France, where an unknown number of people died; Rue de Charonne, where as many as 18 were killed; Rue Alibert, where up to 14 were murdered; Boulevard Voltaire, where one died; Rue Fontaine le Roi, where five died; and the Bataclan concert hall, where at least 80 were killed by several attackers.
Speaking at the Bataclan, which saw the worst of the carnage, French President François Hollande struck a defiant tone, saying, “We are going to lead a war; it will be pitiless,” in tracking down and eliminating those connected with the attacks.
“When terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities, they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow,” he said. French authorities have said that the attackers at the Bataclan blew themselves up with suicide belts when the police closed in on them.
SHOCKING: The explosions can be heard inside the stadium! Stay safe, Paris… pic.twitter.com/kVNGWqoPkS
— Football Tweets (@FutballTweets) November 13, 2015
Some crazy stuff going down in Paris. Explosion just ouside Stade de France https://t.co/43BgTE0V39
— Terje (@ArsenalTerje) November 13, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama did not hesitate to label the attacks as terrorism but told reporters at the White House that because the acts of terrorism were ongoing, he was not willing to speculate as to who is responsible.
“We will do whatever it takes to work with the French people to bring these terrorists to justice and go after any terrorist networks that go after our people,” he said.
The attacks are “outrageous,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a strongly worded statement. “The American people understand and share the pain the people of Paris are going through,” he said, adding, “We will never bow. We will never break. That’s the character of our two nations…. Such savagery can never threaten who we are. We will respond. We will overcome. We will endure.”
The attacks will likely embolden those in Europe and the United States who have warned against allowing migrants from the Middle East and North Africa into their societies. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) tweeted: “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now? How about that mass migration into Europe? Terrorism is alive & well in the world. #No.”
There is no indication that the migration crisis from the Middle East currently roiling Europe had anything to do with Friday’s attacks, but more than 1,000 French citizens are thought to have traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State in recent years, and about 250 have since returned, according to estimates from French authorities. Across the continent, at least 6,000 Europeans have joined the jihadi group.
Eyewitnesses at the Bataclan theater have reported that at least one of the attackers spoke French.
This is the first successful terrorist attack in Paris since a three-day ordeal last January when gunmen Chérif and Saïd Kouachi stormed satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s offices, killing 12. Two days later, gunman Amedy Coulibaly killed four after storming a kosher grocery store in Paris.
The Kouachi brothers, who were later shot dead by police, had pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Coulibaly, who was also shot and killed by police, claimed he coordinated with them but pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Friday evening’s attacks, which appear to be coordinated, come soon after French authorities claimed they thwarted a separate attack at a naval base in the country’s south.
The naval base was home to the Charles de Gaulle, the aircraft carrier that has been deployed to the Persian Gulf to support France’s bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
It also comes amid new evidence suggesting that militants tied to the Islamic State — once thought to be focused mainly on controlling their self-declared caliphate — were now crossing into other countries to carry out terrorist strikes.
U.S. authorities believe the Islamic State was responsible for the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people onboard. Spanish authorities said earlier this month that they successfully dismantled an Islamic State cell that was plotting an attack in Madrid. Three Moroccan men were arrested in the raid.
Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement Friday: “Many hundreds of French citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq, and the risk from those who return is well-known and severe.”
“While we await a determination of the identity of those responsible and their motivation, given the disturbing similarities to other attacks, this clearly coordinated series of violent acts bears all the hallmarks of international terrorism,” he said.
In September, France began anti-Islamic State airstrikes in Syria, striking an oil supply center and training camps for foreign jihadis suspected of preparing to conduct attacks in France. An estimated 1,200 French citizens are believed to have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, according to the U.K.-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization, and 250 have returned, according to the French Interior Ministry.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters earlier this month that French authorities have made 370 arrests to foil terrorist attacks, without specifying over what time period.
Friday’s attacks were a grim reminder of a close call in August, when three American friends tackled and disarmed a Moroccan gunman carrying a Kalashnikov on a crowded train headed from Amsterdam to Paris.
Photo credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images